3 Steps to Professional Learning Planning (PLP)

In a previous blog entry, Planning Active Learning for Professionals, I shared a few ideas I’d gathered (then “stolen, made to look like not stolen, then shared among thieves” as an old colleague told me once). My end goal was to create a one-page professional learning planner that could serve as a visual aid.

As a visual learner, it helps me to be able to see as many possible choices and bits of information in a “all on the table” kind of way. That’s why I wanted to build a one-page PLP document. After some false starts, I have settled upon the following document:

Page 1 of 2 | Get the PDF version

As you can see, it tries to capture the 3 Step approach. I admit that I added the Professional Development Model question at the top of the document after creating the 3 steps. One of the reasons why it’s such a pain to ponder professional development models is that we sort of already know most of them don’t work as well as we would like.

Key Elements for Professional Development
Below are some key elements of successful professional development. Yes, I swiped these from Kaplan’s web site, The Principles of Effective Professional Development. They have a great summary of some of the research reports I reference below. Ok, here’s the excerpt…

Professional development needs to:

  1. Be an ongoing experience for educators that provide extended learning opportunities help them master new skills and instructional methods. These have a better chance at positively impacting student learning. (Gulamhussein; Darling-Hammond et al.)
  2. Be job embedded as much as possible so that what is learned can be applied in the classroom. (DeMonte; Darling-Hammond et al.)
  3. Provide support for teachers during the implementation stage of using a new instructional method in the classroom.  (Gulamhussein).
  4. Offer content that is specific (e.g. goal, discipline, grade level, developmental stage) instead of generic. (Gulamhussein; Darling-Hammond et al.)
  5. Be engaging and use varied approaches to support learning for both groups and individuals.(Gulamhussein). 
  6. Include modeling because it helps educators understand new instructional methods (Gulamhussein; Darling-Hammond et al.)
  7. Promote collaboration among teachers because it leads to better teaching and instruction, helping educators solve problems they are dealing with in the classroom. (DeMonte; Darling-Hammond et al.)

Simply put, professional development needs to be ongoing, job-embedded, specific, as well as model and support implementation in the classroom via various group/individual strategies. PD should also support collaboration among teachers, something which they have little time for during the day. Can anyone say, “Twitter PLN?”

What’s missing? 
Now that I look at it, what I don’t see and would like to, is how learners are going to create or make their thinking visible. What else do you think is missing that should be there? Please share in the comments.

Note: Much of what I’m sharing below in terms of research comes from Linda Darling-Hammond as cited in a Center for Public Education report, Teaching the Teachers.

What Students Need But Often Don’t Get
As you look at the PLP above, you’ll notice that there is a bias towards active learning. Of course, aligning activities learners are engaged in is important. I expect that professional learning from this point forward has to model approaches that mirror the learning styles of Generation Z students. And, of course, you can probably guess what kind of approaches those are (check the chart).

New shifts and reforms “represent a retreat from the traditional rote, fact-based style of instruction toward teaching that fosters critical thinking and problem solving” (Gulamhussein as cited here).

What students need is listed below:

  • Investigation and problem-based approaches
  • Participation in meaning-making and reasoning
  • Questioning strategies
  • Generating ideas and questions
As you can imagine, this is pretty fantastic research from my point of view. As a PrBL advocate for many years, having facilitated PrBL Academies at the TCEA State Conference a couple of years in a row as well as in a large urban school district I served in and for a regional education service center, I have never found problem-based approaches to fade in the research. I suspect that it is because as human beings, we are wired for problem-solving. 
Professional development must engage learners in active learning that leaves them seeking more. It has to be significant (more than 14 hours, closer to 40 hours) and ongoing. Honestly, there’s no way to achieve that without technology and blended learning/webinar approaches.

For example, the “workshop” approach that we are all so familiar with (91.5% of teachers are subjected to this) has little to no impact on student learning or teacher practice!

 “The one-time workshop assumes the only challenge facing teachers is a lack of knowledge of effective teaching practices and when that knowledge gap is corrected teachers will then be able to change” (Gulamhussein as cited here)

Workshops are only effective if they allow for and focus on facilitating learning specific skills or strategies backed by research. Some strategies that can improve the effect of workshops include the following:

  • Readings
  • Role playing techniques
  • Open-ended discussions of what is presented
  • Live modeling
  • Visits to classrooms to observe and discuss the teaching methodology
Still. you wonder how much benefit anyone actually does gain from workshops. Perhaps, more worrisome, is the assertion that teachers who learn something new actually have to see it be successful before they accept into their own practice. Given that workshops often fall into 

Compare the workshop approach to the “coaching” approach (45% of teachers exposed to to coaching).

For the coaching approach, consider these statistics:

  1. 5% of learners will transfer a new skill as a result of theory.
  2. 10% of learners will transfer a new skill as a result of theory and demonstration
  3. 20%  of learners will transfer a new skill as a result of theory, demonstration, practice with training
  4. 25%  of learners will transfer a new skill as a result of theory, demonstration, practice, training and feedback
  5. 90% will transfer a new skill into their practice with theory, demonstration, practice with the training, feedback and coaching.

    Obviously coaching wipes the floor with the workshop approach. Other popular PD models such as Peer Observation (63% of teachers have experienced this), Research (39.8%) are also heavily used. My money is on coaching, though.

    Peer Observation
    Bell (2005) defines peer observation of teaching as a “collaborative, developmental activity in which professionals offer mutual support by:

    • observing each other teach; explaining and discussing what was observed
    • sharing ideas about teaching
    • gathering student feedback on teaching effectiveness
    • reflecting on understandings, feelings, actions and feedback
    • trying out new ideas
    Having experienced peer observation myself as a third grade bilingual teacher, I can certainly attest to the effectiveness of this model. The reason why I perceived it as effective is that I was learning from a respected colleague who didn’t have another agenda (e.g. district office oversight, not that they had it back then), I could try and fail and try again with support, students were active participants in the process. What really made it fun was that I was already writing articles for publication, so my attempts at new ideas almost certainly found their way into my writing. 
    In fact, those peer observations, then trying it out in my classroom with my students, and reflections got me hooked on a new type of writing unlike the academic stuff I’d been accustomed to. It was the precursor to the blogging that I would begin a few years later.
    While peer observation can also be used for performance management, as opposed to development (which was what I was familiar with), I am a little nervous about top-down “performance management.” I have a healthy distaste for someone managing my performance. I suspect that it works just fine for others, though (grin). Some other quick points about peer observation:
    • Peer observation of teaching provides a forum where teaching practices are shared rather than remaining a private activity (D’Andrea 2002a), and this 
    • encourages reflection on teaching and 
    • fosters debate about and dissemination of best practice (Hammersley-Fletcher and Orsmond 2005). 
    • Peer feedback can be used as evidence for teaching award or promotion applications (Hammersley-Fletcher and Orsmond 2004) and 
    • complements student evaluations since academics provide a different perspective (Hutchings 1996). 
    • provides a model of peer and self assessment for students (Napan and Mamula-Stojnic 2005). 
    Some key ideas about peer observation:
    1. Instrumental interpretation of peer observation is insufficient by itself to enhance teacher performance in the classroom.
    2. “Learning about teaching, and heightening a sense of professionalism stems from a continuous process of transforming personal meaning. This demands an active engagement with pedagogical theory, purposeful critical reflection on classroom practice, and a challenging of assumptions through shared critical reflection” (Source)
    Professional Learning Planner (PLP)
    As I reflect on the PLP, it’s clear that it doesn’t address any of the key elements of professional development. Those lie outside the scope of that document. And, I’m OK with that for now. However, page 2 of the PLP (doesn’t exist…yet) may very well be a way of addressing these areas, even if it is a reminder to PL/PD planners of what those elements are.

    So here is page 2 of the PLP, which I imagine would run two-sided on a piece of paper:

    Page 2 of 2 | Get the PDF version

    Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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